For cellist Alisa Weilerstein — as for all of us — life in 2021 involves a lot of rescheduling. For example, as recently as November, Weilerstein still planned to perform the complete Bach suites for cello in Santa Barbara in April of 2021. Her acclaimed recording of these legendary works, available since April 2020, set the stage for an international tour, and UCSB Arts & Lectures had contracted to present the program at the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall, where it would have been a music fan’s dream come true. Alas, this has been a season of such in-person dreams deferred.
Although that engagement had to be abandoned due to the persistence of COVID, Arts & Lectures will nevertheless give audiences a great chance to experience Weilerstein’s music on Friday, February 12, when she and pianist Inon Barnatan will perform as part of the online House Calls series. The concert features works by Manuel De Falla and Sergei Rachmaninoff, and it will be available beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday. Following that initial screening of the music, Weilerstein will appear live on Zoom to answer questions and spend time with the audience.
Soon after the pandemic lockdown began in March of 2020, Weilerstein became one of the first classical musicians to post daily live performances to social media. For her #36DaysofBach project, she played one movement from the cello suites per day from March 17 until April 21. The series pleased her online fans and professional music critics alike, with the press extolling not only the virtuosity of her playing but also the appropriateness of the material to our collective need for reassurance in that difficult time.
Looking back on #36Daysof Bach, Weilerstein expressed gratitude for the way that it struck a chord with its housebound audience — the feedback she received was nothing less than “amazing” she said — while at the same time observing that the time for such impromptu solutions has likely passed. “We are all grasping a new reality,” she said of her fellow performers, adding, “Now we are in this for the long haul.” She predicts a near future in which musicians will put much more time and energy into the production of their online projects.
The days of the casual pandemic home recital may be numbered, but the new socially distanced era of music-making that the coronavirus has ushered in is just beginning. Although reluctant to portray anything as the “bright side” of a pandemic, Weilerstein did say that with additional time to rest and to record, she has found herself listening to her own music in a different way. She sees this time with limited travel as an opportunity to become more self-aware, “assessing, growing, and leaning into” the philosophical implications of the music.
Those who log on to Friday’s House Call will get a generous helping of this deeply satisfying artist at her most soulful. She and Barnatan recorded the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata, Op. 19 in 2015, and they have played it together many times since, more than any other single work, says Weilerstein. The other piece on the program goes even further back, as the De Falla Suite Populaire Espagnole was a favorite of the teenage Weilerstein when her recital partner was her mother, the distinguished pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein. Taken together, these compositions represent contemporary small-group performance at its aesthetic apex, a transcendent form of art that’s never been more welcome than it is today. Those who wish to indulge in an extra immersive sensory experience, perhaps as a prelude to Valentine’s Day, should consider ordering the specially crafted meal that Acme Hospitality’s La Paloma Café is serving for pickup alongside the show. Online tickets and meal reservations are both available at artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.
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